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N.C. holds on to high rank in hot Q1 for solar – Triangle Business Journal

Senior Staff Writer-Charlotte Business Journal

North Carolina remains the Southeast’s hot spot for solar development, according to the most recent figures compiled by SNL Energy.

But interest in solar projects has rapidly ramped up in Florida, SNL says. And with the help of some particularly large projects, the Sunshine State could be neck-and-neck with North Carolina if all currently planned projects in both states are built.

In an article based on figures as of June 3, SNL’s Charlotte Cox reports that solar development had its best first quarter in U.S. history.

Banner year?

Cox reports that 297 megawatts worth of utility-scale solar power projects were built in the country in the first three months of the year. That is more than twice the 122 megawatts built in the first quarter of 2012.

However, it was well below the 794 megawatts installed in the fourth quarter of 2012, which was the largest quarter ever for the industry.

Still, Cox writes:

Because the first quarter of each year historically has the least capacity installed of any quarter, the strong first quarter of 2013 may indicate a banner year for solar PV (photo-voltaic). Solar PV installations have grown tremendously in recent years, with a 111% gain between 2012 and 2011, and a 210% gain between 2011 and 2010. At the end of the first quarter of 2013, the U.S. had 3,433 MW of operating grid-connected solar PV capacity, with an additional 28,072 MW planned.

N.C. holds place

According to the figures SNL has compiled, North Carolina remains in fifth place in the nation (where it ended last year) with 245 megawatts of installed capacity. That’s behind California (1,353 megawatts), Arizona (761 megawatts), New Jersey (288 megawatt) and Nevada (270 megawatts).

Florida is a couple of notches back, with 76 megawatts installed. But the state has 1,262 megawatts worth of new projects proposed or in some stage of development or construction. That includes a 400-megawatt, $1.5 billion solar project in an advanced-development stage, SNL says.

North Carolina, meanwhile, has 1,102 megawatts announced or in some stage of development, the largest being a couple of 100-megawatt projects (75 megawatts of alternative current) proposed by Strata Solar of Chapel Hill.

Dead heat

If all the currently planned projects in both states are built — actually an unlikely scenario since projects tend to fall by the wayside in development — the states would be in a dead heat with N.C. having 1,347 megawatts of installed capacity and Florida having 1,338.

“The flurry of development in North Carolina may be driven by the lack of wind resources combined with the state’s (renewable energy portfolio standard) and standard offer contracts” that utilities proffer for projects 5 megawatts and under, Cox writes.

Those standard offer contracts are why projects in North Carolina tend to be smaller. According to many in the industry, the challenge for North Carolina now is for solar developers to find a way to get past the 5-megawatt level and build larger projects. A few have been built under contracts to large companies. Apple Inc.’s (NYSE:AAPL) 20-megawatt solar farm at its Maiden data center is an example of such an arrangement.

Larger scale

Only Duke Energy Renewables, a commercial subsidiary of Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE:DUK), has to-date built a project larger than 5 megawatts — the 12.5 megawatt first phase of its White Post Solar farm finished late last year in Eastern North Carolina. Duke Renewables has a long-term power purchase agreement for that project — no private developers in the state build solar farms without such an agreement.

Several companies are planning larger projects. Strata Solar has plans for several 20-megawatt projects in addition to its largest farms. SunEnergy1 in Mooresville, which was Duke’s contractor for White Post, has a couple of 20-megawatt projects it is developing itself, and Cornelius-based O2Energies also has a planned 20-megawatt project.

If North Carolina is going to stay in the lead in the Southeast, larger projects by these and other developers are going to have to become more common in the state.

via N.C. holds on to high rank in hot Q1 for solar – Triangle Business Journal.